• John-Michael Scurio

Forbes Ranked: The 20 Top Places Americans Are Dreaming About Right Now

Updated: May 27

EDITORS' PICK | 63,076 views | Published: May 20, 2020, 06:00am EDT

This article was taken from Forbes.com (featuring Eureka Springs, Arkansas)

Downtown Eureka Springs, Arkansas

While the coronavirus pandemic is continuing and stay-at-home orders remain in effect for many Americans, the travel world is slowly beginning to wake back up, with hotels reopening, destinations starting to prepare for the summer vacation season and people considering traveling again.

According to a new study from The Points Guy, 31% of Americans would consider taking a vacation outside of the home between now and the end of the summer. A Deloitte survey showed that 35% of Americans plan to fly domestically or internationally in the next three months. And another survey by RENTCafé.com reported that 42% of Americans want to stick to their existing travel plans—though 11% of the respondents said they would look for less popular and less crowded destinations.


In light of those survey results, RENTCafé.com—a nationwide apartment search website and research blog—decided to conduct a deeper study and see which destinations are holding strong during the pandemic when it comes to their appeal among Americans. To do that, the company analyzed travel-related Google searches for 960 destinations in the US and then ranked the destinationstownsbeaches and natural areas that saw the smallest drop in interest from people dreaming about a future escape.


Note: This story is not recommending places to go right now, as coronavirus has interrupted travel on a global scale and throughout the United States. Plus, some of the destinations in this story are currently closed to visitors and have no available services (hotels, rentals, restaurants), while others are inhabited by locals who actively do not want outside visitors. But should you decide to plan a trip anywhere during the coronavirus pandemic, you should check local travel restrictions for the destinations you are hoping to visit, consider warnings from the State Department and CDC and be prepared for quarantines or restrictions that could make travel challenging. Travelers should also consider risk factors like age and existing health issues before going on a trip and take precautions to keep themselves and others safe.


Travel Searches Down, Interests Changing


According to RENTCafé, overall travel searches for popular US vacation destinations plummeted by 64% in March and April 2020 compared to the same time last year—but the results are telling. The study showed that Americans are craving small-town comfort, beaches and nature vacations, while city trips have drastically decreased in popularity. “It’s worth noting that the survey and the keyword research show the travelers’ intentions, which might materialize this summer or maybe later,” says Alexandra Ciuntu, a researcher for RENTCafé.

Wooden walkway to Bodie lighthouse on Cape Hatteras National Seashore in the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Topping the list of the places that Americans are dreaming about going right now is Outer Banks, North Carolina, which RENTCafé identified as the “most resilient travel destination during the [COVID-19] lockdown,” based on the smallest decrease (-25%) in travel searches compared to March and April last year. Compare that to a 78% drop in popularity for Brooklyn, New York.


“The Outer Banks are among those travel destinations that offer everything: Instagrammable beaches (and lighthouses too!), great food, reasonably priced activities, picturesque towns,” says Ciuntu. “Thanks to the expansive sandy beaches, travelers can easily observe social distancing if necessary. The Netflix series with the same name made Outer Banks even more popular during the lockdown.”

Yellowstone National Park is the favorite natural destination in America

Coming in second on the list of favorite places is Yellowstone National Park, which reopened on Monday for the first time since it was closed in March due to the pandemic. Small towns also performed well. The tiny town of Fairbanks, Alaska—known for its Northern Lights viewing—is the third favorite place on the list.


Ciuntu says it’s surprising to see which destinations are not on the list. “For example, Miami, Orlando, Las Vegas and San Diego witnessed a staggering decline in interest. Travel searches for these crowded popular spots plummeted by almost 70% compared to a year ago,” she says.


Top Beaches, Small Towns, Natural Attractions

Besides ranking the overall list of top 20 destinations, RENTCafé also drilled down on specific areas of interest, ranking the top 10 beaches, small towns and natural attractions that people are dreaming about right now.


Not surprisingly, the Outer Banks is at the top of the list of favorite beaches. Despite Hawaii’s headline-making quarantining efforts, the state’s appeal hasn’t diminished during lockdown. Honolulu is second on the list of favorite beach destinations and—in total—four Hawaii destinations rank in the top 10. The preppy Massachusetts islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard are also in the top 10.


The study also looked at small-town America, which RENTCafé says is more alluring than ever. “Whether it’s the desire to escape crowded cities or find quiet comfort, towns and smaller cities shine as the top post-pandemic getaway destinations that have maintained their popularity during these times,” writes Ciuntu. At the top of the list of favorite small towns is Fairbanks, Alaska, which is known for its northern lights, midnight sun and dog mushing. The natural wonderland of Moab, Utah—gateway to Canyonlands—comes in second among the most appealing small towns.


Lastly, the study also looked at natural destinations—places to really get away from it all. “It comes as no surprise that Yellowstone made the cut as an all-time favorite natural attraction,” writes Ciuntu. Three Colorado Rockies locations made this list, including Aspen at number two, plus Breckenridge and Vail. Some other highlights on the list include Bozeman, Montana and the scenic Glacier National Park.


Read on to see all four lists of what people are dreaming about right now—20 top destinations, 10 top beaches, 10 top small towns, 10 top natural destinations—and head here to see the methodology and more results from the study.


20 Top Destinations


  1. Outer Banks, North Carolina

  2. Yellowstone National Park

  3. Fairbanks, Alaska

  4. Aspen, Colorado

  5. Honolulu, Hawaii

  6. Glacier National Park, Montana

  7. Nantucket, Massachusetts

  8. Moab, Utah

  9. Kauai, Hawaii

  10. Cheyenne, Wyoming

  11. Sioux Falls, South Dakota

  12. Anchorage, Alaska

  13. Taos, New Mexico

  14. Rapid City, South Dakota

  15. Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Downtown Eureka Springs, Arkansas

16. Bozeman, Montana

17. Amarillo, Texas

18. Fredericksburg, Texas

19. Breckenridge, Colorado

20 .Ruidoso, New Mexico


10 Top Beach Destinations

  1. Outer Banks, North Carolina

  2. Honolulu, Hawaii

  3. Nantucket, Massachusetts

  4. Kauai, Hawaii

  5. Maui, Hawaii

  6. The Florida Keys

  7. Hilo, Hawaii

  8. Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

  9. Oahu, Hawaii

  10. Seaside, Oregon

10 Top Small Town Destinations

  1. Fairbanks, Alaska

  2. Moab, Utah

  3. Cheyenne, Wyoming

  4. Taos, New Mexico

  5. Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Stay in tree houses in Eureka Springs, Arkansas

6. Fredericksburg, Texas

7. Durango, Colorado

8. St. George, Utah

9. Bar Harbor, Maine

10. Sedona, Arizona


10 Top Nature Travel Destinations

  1. Yellowstone National Park

  2. Aspen, Colorado

  3. Glacier National Park, Montana

  4. Bozeman, Montana

  5. Breckenridge, Colorado

  6. Ruidoso, New Mexico

  7. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

  8. Vail, Colorado

  9. Mackinac Island, Michigan

  10. Boone, North Carolina

The northern lights in Fairbanks, Alaska, the favorite small town in America

Editor’s Note 5/21/20: Based on feedback and to clarify that this story is about the places that people are searching for and interested in right now—not a list of where people are actually going or a list of recommended travel destinations—the headline and some language in the story was changed after publication.